Tallmadge issues code violations to Midway owners, consider future of property

Krista S. Kano
Kent Weeklies
Empty stores at Midway Plaza including this Goodwill Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in Akron, Ohio.

TALLMADGE — City officials are hoping that Midway Plaza's out-of-state owners reinvest in the strip mall that is now 80% vacant and have given them 30 days to bring the property up to code or face citations to court.  

“We want to see businesses succeed and grow, but there’s a minimum standard in place, and they’ve allowed that property to fall below that minimum standard,” Tallmadge Planning Director and Economic Developer Matthew Springer said. 

In 2016, Namdar Realty Group of Great Neck, New York — which specializes in distressed retail centers — purchased the now 65-year-old plaza and the parking lot for $1.25 million, compared to its total appraised value of $1.51 million, according to Summit County records.  

The plaza already had several vacancies, including its anchor storefront High Point Furniture, which closed abruptly in 2007.  

Namdar handles operations of the plaza while its retail partner, Mason Asset Management, also of Great Neck, is responsible for leasing and redevelopment. The two companies also co-own the Medwick Marketplace in Medina, Station Outlets in Burbank and Midway Mall in Elyria. 

The body of a dead bird lies next to a lease sign that fell from the window of vacant store at Midway Plaza Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in Akron, Ohio.

Since the 2016 purchase, Midway's appraised value has dropped to $1.25 million according to 2019 tax records, but updated property values will be released on Monday and countywide, property values are set to climb 16%.

Over the first three years, stores continued to close, and the most recent vacancy came at the end of November when the second largest remaining tenant Goodwill closed after 15 years in the plaza.

Goodwill Retail Operations Vice President Dee Dee Collura said that the closure would help offset some COVID-19-related expenses incurred this year, but that the vacancies also factored into their decision making.  

"We really haven't had a lot of contact with the plaza owner, although we have reached out," Collura said. 

The mostly empty parking lot at Midway Plaza Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in Akron, Ohio.

Springer addressed the closure at Tallmadge's November City Council meeting, saying that the plaza “in many ways, fits the definition of 'blight.'” 

In the vacant spaces, ceilings are falling down, water is dripping, mold is growing, and there is an odor that is apparent even while wearing a mask, Tallmadge Mayor David Kline said.

Kline toured the property with Fire Chief Mike Passarelli, who noted that the occupied spaces have all been inspected in the last 12 months and are safe.  

Springer views Goodwill’s closure as a new opportunity to re-engage with Namdar, and said they would have a conversation “very soon.”  

Empty stores at Midway Plaza Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in Akron, Ohio.

A week later, the city’s Planning and Zoning Department sent Namdar a 15-page notice of violation that detailed numerous deficiencies. 

The violations were both aesthetic in nature — such as store signs for spaces not occupied for more than 180 days — and also related to health and safety — such as failed roof gutters that caused the deterioration of cement blocks “to the point that it may be a structural concern." 

As per the notice, Namdar has the right to appeal within 14 days or bring the property into compliance and call for inspection within 30 days of receipt.

Failure to comply will result in a criminal citation for a minor misdemeanor, which carries an initial fine of $150, but can be enhanced for multiple violations, repeated noncompliance and the level of noncompliance. A judge would set the fine, Law Director Megan Raber said.  

There is a civil process to condemn the structure, but the city has not initiated it.  

“At this point we’re hoping we get compliance for the violations that have been cited,” Raber said.

Empty stores at Midway Plaza Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in Akron, Ohio.

Mason Asset Management Director of Leasing Igal Nassim said in an emailed statement that their marketing strategy for the plaza has been centered around “bolstering retail tenancy” but that their strategy is evolving “to explore all potential options for redevelopment." 

“We don’t have specifics on that to share just yet, but we’ll be sure to let you know once we do,” Nassim wrote.  

In an emailed statement, Namdar wrote that they are "in the process of reviewing the notice and will be working closely with the city and the inspector, as well as its vendors, to ensure the matters listed are addressed and mitigated as soon as possible."

A portion of the plaza parking lot is located in Akron, but that city's Director of Development Adele Dorfner Roth said that Akron has not been involved with any improvement efforts “for as long as I can remember, which is more than 20 years.” 

Reinvestment or teardown?

Kline would like to see the owners be “good stewards of their property” and said he would be open to reinvestment or a teardown. 

“This is a long strip mall that has a lot of different pockets that could be cleaned up and repurposed,” Kline said. “But it seems like they’re not doing that, so my preference is a teardown for green space or to open up for redevelopment. But if the property owner is willing to put money in, I would be open to that also.” 

Tallmadge is still trying to work with Namdar to reinvest into the community, Springer said. The city offers financial incentives like tax abatements and rebates to businesses that reinvest in their properties and create jobs in the city. 

“[Incentives] are available to any property owner or business owner that’s eligible, but at this point, frankly, [Namdar] haven’t brought any projects forward to even be considered,” he said.  

Tallmadge Police Chief Ronald Williams said that because there is so little activity at Midway, they receive relatively few complaints about the area. They do receive shoplifting complaints, but fewer than in other areas of the city, and that complaints typically focus on dumping behind the building. 

“We can talk to people, try to persuade them to clean up the mess, but when you have an off-site owner, that’s a little bit tedious,” Williams said.  

Although Kline believes the plaza has served its purpose and “in my opinion it’s a teardown,” there is some financial incentive to keep it.  

The empty interior of a closed Goodwill storeat Midway Plaza Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 in Akron, Ohio.

According to Summit County tax records, Namdar paid $37,417.71 in property taxes to both Tallmadge and Akron for 2019.

Taxes include $5,909.68 to the county, $24,622.17 to Tallmadge City Schools, $2,278.31 to Tallmadge, $2,483.92 to Akron City Schools, $405.53 to Akron, $1,087.35 to the Akron Summit Library and $630.75 to the Summit Metro Parks.  

Due to the high vacancy rate, Midway-related income tax revenues are minimal, Tallmadge Finance Director Mollie Gilbride said, so to provide them may violate employees’ privacy. 

But, it seems, the revenues are not significant enough for the city to turn a blind eye. 

"We're working with other people to make this a viable gateway into Tallmadge," Kline said. "From the city of Akron, you go down West Avenue, enter Tallmadge and the first thing they see is a broken-down building. Sink some money into it. Who would want to move into mildew, black mold and empty storefronts?" 

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoABJ.